Tom Stovall: Soldier, Prisoner of War, Hero, Legend
To say that it is an honor for us to serve Tom Stovall, a decorated centenarian veteran, is an understatement. Tom is one of our #InspiredResidents at Inspired Living at Kenner. He will be valiantly reaching 100 years old on April 16th next year, but this is only one of his many amazing life achievements. Tom has led an extraordinary life and star-studded military career. In accompaniment to Veterans Day this year, we’d like to share his incredible story!
Tom had two years of college under his belt before applying for the Air Force. When his draft number was called, he was sent to the horse cavalry and fondly remembers saying, “Those horses were so smart, you wouldn’t believe it.” Tom’s next grand adventure came when he went into pilot training. He quickly jumped the ranks and became a navigator and instructor for the Army. However, one unlikely event came during his career as a navigator. During one of his flights in Prestwick, Scotland, he was tasked to land a B-26 on a very short and narrow runway. He described the runway being about 12 inches, holding his hands up to indicate the amount of wiggle room he had. He flew in at around 110 miles per hour and landed on the runway only to end up crashing into a tractor. The whole plane burst into flames, injuring Tom leaving him to be hospital ridden for two months. This tenacious man was honored with a soldier medial for his actions that saved the lives of the crew. Tom Stovall didn’t let this incident hold him back though. After recuperating from his accident, he quickly re-entered training to become a bombardier and began flying again aboard a B-26.
As a bombardier, he flew around 72 total missions. On his 71st mission, Tom was asked to arrive in Paris to replace a sick officer. His mission was to bomb railroads and bridges to suffocate the enemies strategic battle plans. During their mission, however, their B-26 was shot down and landed into the water. He and the pilot were the only two survivors from the crash, suffering serious burns to their faces and hands. As if this wasn’t devastating enough, Tom was captured on the beach by Germans and became a prisoner of war. The Germans took him to a command post where he met a German Col. which Tom stated, “He spoke better English than I did,”. The Col. had a daughter who lived in New York City and asked about the city’s condition after a supposed bombing, to which Tom replied with a laugh. Mr. Stovall was placed into a 200-year-old depleted prison after being held at the command post. He received treatment for his burns within the first two weeks of being a prisoner of war and was then transferred to Germany. His time in Germany was spent in isolation in a solitary jail for 28 days being interrogated. Through this tribulation, he was again moved to Stalag 111, a prisoner of war camp in Sagan, Poland. His saving grace came when the Allies moved into France, which ultimately led to his rescue. He emerged only weighing 98 pounds and had lived through more during his time in the armed services than most people do in an entire lifetime.
From being hospitalized for two months, having severe burns, and being captured, this incredible man once again rose like a phoenix from the ashes. He considers himself incredibly lucky, although it seems more accurate to say that it was the United States that was lucky to have Tom, a brave man, serving our great country. Upon his arrival home, Tom received many awards for his outstanding service. Rightfully so, he became the head of the National Guard, and ended up stationed in Japan through the Korean War but, never flew because of the distance to North Korea.
Tom’s military adventures have captivated us all! From being in the Army to the Air Force becoming a navigator and a bombardier; a prisoner of war and ultimately ending up being the Head of the National Guard, he is the true definition of a war hero. In accompaniment to his awe-inspired stories, he has six books – three inches thick – stuffed with these cherished memories and accomplishments.
Happy Veterans Day to all who have served and a heartfelt thank you from Inspired Living Communities and Validus Senior Living!